Ga-Rei: Zero’s beginning works like an exhilarating kick in the nuts. It comes out of nowhere, knocks our breath out, and then leave us just as suddenly to gather our whirling thoughts. In it, a team of special armed forces are trying to contain an outbreak of supernatural beings in the city. As their members fall one by one, they soon realise someone they once thought a friend has turned against them. It’s worth elaborating on how fantastic that opening is and how skilfully it introduces us to a complex concept of demons and demon hunters while neatly covering the main characters, because that is as sophisticated as the show gets. Two episodes later, the story doubles back to describe a tepid tale of friendship betrayed by circumstance that never quite measures up.
In the style of Berserk and Gungrave, Ga-Rei: Zero concerns a spiralling tragedy of two individuals who form a profound friendship that sadly cannot last, and how one of them becomes the enemy. Unlike Berserk and Gungrave, it attempts to depict this in half their running time, which has some important consequences for the plot. Primarily, the show manages only fifty percent of the intensity. In such revenge plots, the build-up to the unlikely enmity is what makes the rest matter. Not only must we care deeply about both characters, but we must feel convinced that their eventual antagonism is as natural as their initial friendship. Ga-Rei: Zero either has not got the required time to get us that involved or the creators did not have the talent to think up something interesting for the middle.
The show essentially exploits clichés to hammer home the fact that the protagonists, Kagura Tsuchimiya and Yomi Isayama, are TOTALLY BEST FRIENDS, LOOK THEY EVEN KISS LIKE LESBIANS, THAT IS HOW BESTEST FRIENDS THEY ARE! Much of the vital setting up of the friendship features them sharing baths, teasing each other during work, and even an entire episode of Kagura trying to set Yomi up with a lover. A lot of this, rather than proving insightful glimmers of joy in their staid existence as demon hunters, actually feels more like filler. We get mixed in with that the straightforward tale of a powerful family of demon hunters who hate the adopted Yomi and wish to stop her inheriting the position of head of the house. Finally, when the reason for Kogura’s and Yomi’s split becomes apparent, it turns out to hinge as much on silly, avoidable misunderstandings and some supernatural mumbo-jumbo as misfortune. Of course, there are Yomi’s evil relatives weaving nefarious plots, but some of the characters’ lack of common sense constitutes half the problem.
As for the backdrop of demon infestations and demon hunting, it feels superfluous. The mythology behind the demons’ existence never becomes a significant part of the story. The reason for that is that Ga-Rei: Zero is a prequel to the manga, Ga-Rei, and as such assumes the audience knows all the relevant details. For anyone unfamiliar with the manga, like myself, the omission will be understandable but nevertheless detracting.
Ga-Rei: Zero uses its budget to exciting effect during action sequences, although the memorable ones occur at too low a frequency to elevate this to the top echelons of animated works. Otherwise, the animation will largely fail to leap out and shriek demands of admiration at the audience. For a show aiming at constant ominousness, I find the milieu surprisingly tame. Splashes of blood here, a contorted demonic face there, and plenty of dark spaces which have little to do with well-placed shadow and more to do with the gloomy colour palette.
We get cinematic orchestral compositions for tense sequences and softer, nondescript ditties for personal pauses. Generic j-pop songs bookend the episodes. Anyone who remembers Ga-Rei: Zero’s token soundtrack by the end most likely paid no attention to the other, more interesting things on offer.
There are one or two noteworthy facets to the protagonists: I like Kagura’s contrasting shyness and super-powerful abilities while Yomi tries to smile through all adversity, leaving us to wonder what churns beneath her facade. Beyond that, they’re wholly unremarkable.
The problem is that the show has little room to develop them beyond the obvious using scenes that feel decidedly perfunctory. Setting aside that their friendship develops in leaps of cliché, their personalities leave no lasting imprint in our hearts. Consider the intense feelings the ingenious Griffith (Berserk) or brutally ambitious Harry McDowel (Gungrave) evoke - Yomi’s tormented teen performance, in anticlimactic contrast, evokes only pity and a vague frustration as she hurtles from one bad, emotional decision to another.
Ga-Rei: Zero also leaves its secondary cast in limbo. Some have moments of sheer irrationality not befitting their profession and life-long training as demon hunters, mainly so the plot has a reason to deliver a tragedy. But most don’t even get that.
Drawing the line between duty and desire is not always simple. Ga-Rei-Zero presents us with an orderly system of family honor and duty based upon a single principle: those who inherit a family's ga-rei or spirit-eating beast must vanquish “spirits that defy the natural order.” But what happens when a spirit possesses someone you know? Having to rain justice upon a former ally is a theme hundreds of shows and films have adopted, a famous example being Obi-Wan fighting Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars. Gai-Rei-Zero takes us through a similar betrayal in a way only anime can: in the end, nobody wins...
The number of malicious spirits has steadily increased in Japan. The Ministry of Environment and its Supernatural Disaster Countermeasures Division (SDCD) fight off these spirits with exorcizing weaponry. Working with the SDCD are a group of spirit-vanquisher families, each in possession of a ga-rei spirit beast. Yomi, adopted daughter of the Isayama family, works part-time with the SDCD, quickly proving herself to be the team's most powerful asset.
When Kagura, sole daughter of the Tsuchimiya family, loses her mother during a fight with a powerful spirit, she is taken in by Yomi and her family. The two girls grow to love each other. Kagura is also trained for combat so that she may one day inherit her own family's ga-rei, but she isn't yet strong enough to fight with the SDCD. It soon becomes apparent, however, that the team will need all the help they can get fighting the surge of evil spirits; Kagura joins the team. Little does the SDCD know that the being who killed Kagura's mother has been agitating the spirits within Japan, and that his long-term plans will ruin Yomi's life forever.
Yomi Isayama and the SDCD.
The show is very unconventional in that it's first episode sets us up for a highly organized detective/action show. The Ministry of Defense's police infantry are squashed by a Class B monster, and it's up to an awesome Special Forces unit to take it down. After devoting an entire episode to these Ministry of Defense agents, the rest of the series focuses on the Ministry of Environment's SDCD, an eclectic group of suit-wearing exorcists who use weapons like briefcases that fire bullets. It's a violent shift that's disappointing to see, especially as the series goes on and these agents merely serve as assistants to the insanely skilled Yomi Isayama. The SDCD isn't nearly as efficient or as cool as Special Forces team was.
Fortunately, the lack of finesse within the SDCD is balanced by a likable cast, although we are not privileged with too much time with them. The show focuses on Yomi and Kagura, who have a “sisterly love” that often looks like outright lesbianism. Yomi cares deeply for Kagura; it was Yomi's idea to watch over her while Kagura's father was busy fighting spirits. Their relationship is adorable. Yomi has the stronger personality when compared to Kagura, but they are both enjoyable to watch and are capable of making episodes interesting without the aid of the other. Like Yomi she is a prodigy of swordplay. The fact that Yomi is adopted and without an exorcist bloodline means that Kagura will eventually surpass her. Yomi's adoption eventually becomes a major issue in the story as our mystery antagonist uses this to his advantage and causes strife between the exorcist families.
Ga-Rei-Zero is twelve episodes long. It grants us a peek into a complicated world that is never fully explained. Monsters have classifications according to their spirit energy. The Ministries of Defense and Environment have clearly been fighting paranormal threats for some time. Such information isn't disclosed within the anime. As it turns out, the show is an anime prequel to the Ga-Rei manga, which starts off exactly where the anime ends. Other than the monster categories and the Ministry histories, one doesn't need to read the manga to understand the show. The story is easy to understand and almost predictable.
Yomi and Mei Isayama, her family rival.
The story's predictability doesn't ruin the show, but one might walk away from the series with mixed feelings. Anime has developed many conventions over its long history. Arguably one of them is to make sure that if a situation makes a turn for the worst, it must continue to grow worse until everything ends in tragedy, a narrative experiment in momentum if there ever was one. Shows like Requiem for the Phantom and the film Grave of the Fireflies prove this point. Exceptions to this rule are shows like Moribito and Gurren Lagann. Ga-Rei-Zero is somewhere between. Seeing Kagura and Yomi fight spirits and mature together is heartwarming, but anime constantly reminds us that such moments of peace are temporary, and so their lives begin to change for the worst. Rather than disliking a show for being predictable, I was somewhat satisfied but also left with thoughts of what could have been.
In summary, Ga-Rei-Zero delivers in some ways and fails in others. The show differs from conventional shonen action shows in that it spends a great deal of time on its character relationships. This positive is offset by a narrative that limits itself to telling a story of betrayal that ends in a way one can see coming from a mile away. It had a lot of potential; perhaps because it was a prequel to an existing manga series, its sole purpose was to get from point A to B and entertain while doing so. Ga-Rei-Zero accomplished this without a problem. If it were allotted more narrative freedom, it could have been fantastic.
* Ga-Rei-Zero is produced by AIC Spirits and Asread. The show is currently available for free viewing at Hulu.com.
- Elijah Lee
You can find this review and others like it at http://www.anime-guardians.com/.
The Anime Guardians by Nelson Rolon is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
I was peacefully reading Ga-Rei manga and just finished Yomi Arc. But the story of Kagura-Yomi past was barely explained in very weak, not engaging way. So since I remembered hearing something about prequel to manga I thought - "Ah what the hell... let's stall manga for a while, and watch the prequel, I mean come one it can't get worse than this average manga right"?
With that attitude I played first episode, and was dissapointed immediately. The air of being a prequel smelled from every scene, and instead of manga characters there were some worthless random people. But I decided to finish it anyway, since I was still curious about Yomi past. And to my suprise after first ep it only got better and better. Crappy prequel turned into a real darkhorse, a show that delivers a good, dark story and does it in a top notch way. If I haven't read manga before I'd never guess this anime is a prequel to typical shounen battle manga..
Story - 8/10
Prequel tend to have it hard. You know who will survive, since you you know what characters appear in the main story. So you have to plan how to keep viewer interested in story that finale is already spoiled. This show stood up to the challenge and actually used it for it's advantage thx to the little trick called "In medias res" (starting the storytelling from the middle of the plot). And so at the beginning we are shown the evil Yomi slaugthering her colleagues. She acts like a bitch, she kills good guys - you should hate her, right? And in exactly that moment we are thrown into past - past in which Yomi is a great character, surrounded by friends. Creators of this story perfectly know how to use a "tragic fate scenario" (unlike George Lucas who didn't exploit the potential of Anakin turning into Vader nearly as much as it was possible).
So we have a pretty classic world setting (evil spirits and exorcists fighting them from the shadows). There is some mysterious power exceeding all normal powers (Kyubi fragments), some internal disputes and family traditions being passed from one generation to another. And in the midst of that we have a touching story of Yomi and Kagura friendship (love?). It sometimes gets near the borders of Shoujo-ai, but most likely it's just a bit exaggerated form of love between siblings (yeah, that's Japan for you :P).
Animation - 7/10
The animation wasn't something really hot, but it was acceptable. I'm not too fond of the characters drawing style (especially the eyes), but I guess if they wanted to achieve dark feeling the animation had to be a bit more mature. The powers or the swordfights also didn't make me gasp in an awe - it's acceptable, nothing beyond that.
Sound - 8/10
I really like both opening and ending. It's rare for me, since I usually hate endings and skip them. But this was was good enough for me to listen to it every episode. They also had some good seiyus. Background music had some nice tracks, and the main theme wasn't bad, but they still didn't manage to leave permanent impression (like some of the X TV tracks did for example)
Characters - 8/10
Yomi is probably the key to this production success. They made her into one of the most likeable characters of the whole show, and then showered her with unfair hardships. It's one thing when character turns evil because of his own will (like for example Harry from Gungrave). But when he is a really good person, that is suddenly and unjustly stripped of everything valuable in his life - that's when the viewers will really sympathize. It's the best kind of villain - someone that is evil because of the a tragic fate. Frankly, once the show gets back to the present the first impression Yomi being a bitch is long gone. This time it's hard to decide which one you should cheer on - the tragic villain, or hero that is forced to fight against her best friend. One thing is certain - by the end of the story you might develop a killing intent to some white haired brat.
Kagura is a bit more annoying as a character, but her personality is also essential to this show. The pure and naive soul forced to do the dirty job can gain almost the same sympathy as tragic villain. Well except the fact that her attitude is often annoying to the extreme.
There are some other character like Noriyuki, Mei, Kagura father, etc., but they are less important and less developed. This is mainly a two person show and everything around is just a decoration to make it more realistic. Well Noriyuki might be the most developed from those three, and even though his action aren't as important as Kagura, he also is partially responsible for Yomi betrayal.
The rest is either a comic relief, or a character "to be killed".
This is really well written and well executed story. If you like a slightly dramatic, dark action story, with some possibly tearjerking moments you should watch it. It's defienietly not the same weak joke as manga.
Were you feeling the need for a violent and disturbing show, filled with copious amounts of blood and death? Were you feeling the urges to watch a show about two close friends growing up in a crazy world? Well, in a strange way, GR:Z can fill both of those urges.. sorta... nevermind.. Here is the review
Ah, the story starts, reveling several characters, who are thrown into a violent situation. But, after episode one, that doesn't really matter. *cough*
For a prequel to an anime, it really does not have a bad story. The story centers around two girls. One who’s father is the head of a major family, and has a very cold heart, while the other main female lead is a girl who is going to inherit power. Both girls deal with the trouble of fighting monsters and growing up together. The end. Or well, so you will think, until the things go seriously wrong.
All in all, the story becomes rather predictable near the end, but is still fun to watch if you like the episodes leading up to it.
Oh, and it's sad.
Well, not a lot to say. It's pretty to watch, and the people and monsters (guarding a few of the computer animated ones) are rather cool to look at. Nothing super special, but not hard on the eyes.
Much like animation, the show provides good music, with only a few tracks that really stand out (much like the opening, the ending, and the battle scene between... oh nevermind).
The reason I didn't want to really add this, was because I have rather mixed opinons. The development and attachment you feel for the two main leads is awesome. You really want everything to be ok with them, and its fun to watch them grow and feel together. so with that said, they get a 9.5/10
Now... Every other person in the show? Well, they don't really matter that much. some are explored a little bit, while others you forget about within minutes of them leaving the screen. So they get a 5/10
Here is catch. They don't really matter. The show is about the two girls, so it really doesn't bother me that the anime didn't waste time focusing on random people.
Ga-Rei:Zero is not a show for people looking for happy go lucky romance, nor is it a show for people who want a deep psychological plot, with a final conclusion. (Remember, GR:Z comes BEFORE the actual story.) All in all, it is a fun show to watch if you are a fan of action and violence, and at some points you can really find yourself connecting with the main girls.
Oh yeah, and there is motorcycle and wheelchair fight scene. They rock.
Ga Rei: Zero’s high octane first episode introduces us to a troupe of interesting characters, filled with spirited action, a dark storyline and… death. Within twenty-two minutes, it offers a plot twist to shock the viewer. As a result, the quick pacing is disorienting, foreshadowing a show in love with combat and slacking on story.
Ga Rei: Zero is anything but that. From episode two, the narrative takes a decidedly steady stride after forcing our heads underwater. Letting us come up for air, its easy to take in the world. Set in an alternate version of Japan, the government is engaged in a secret war with the paranormal enlisting the help of exorcists. Being from a family of exorcists herself, Kagura is pulled into the struggle of ‘good vs. evil’. Now in any other anime this set up would be an excuse for large-scale battles between spirits and their hunters. But Ga Rei: Zero uses it as a frame to focus on the associations of its characters.
Centering on the relationship of the dark-haired Yomi and the younger Kagura, the story seems more slice of life than science fiction, as the two grow to love one another as sisters. At times it appears like the plot is having an identity crisis, focusing on the playful exchanges of the pair before shifting gears into a supernatural skirmish. While jarring at first blush, the writers took effort to weave the two strands together, carefully paving the heroine’s path to a momentous climax.
Midnight hues evoke a gloom that haunts over the cast. Colors are appropriately muted during moments of tension. These scenes feel almost like watercolors at moments, fluorescent lighting casting a thin haze over the crisp drawings. Serving as the perfect stage, these set pieces host seamless animation, though the action can seem a bit stiff at times when slow motion is used. The only major detractor is the obtrusive CGI, a blending of cell shading and realistic textures, which feels out of place. A glaring example is the gargantuan Kasha beast in the first episode. Its flames look plastic and the edges of grey skin are jagged from poor aliasing.
The brisk opening "Paradise Lost" by Minori Chihara has a tinge of pessimism while reflecting on the ties of love. It’s pleasant to the ear while tied to the motifs of the Ga Rei: Zero, which is what every OP should do. The ending theme "Yume no Ashioto ga Kikoeru" by Mizuhara Kaoru is filled with melancholy, sober when compared to the Chihara’s offering. Both pieces are excellent and are accompanied by an appropriate soundtrack that has a similar sound. The voice acting is done well, Kagura’s innocence perfectly captured while Yomi’s expressions are handled expertly from teasing to tender. Nothing really stands out from the supporting cast except for Mitogawa, the villain, whose innocent tone is both vacant and eerie.
Ga Rei: Zero offers the typical shounen tango of heroes and baddies as a young heroine comes to term with the assertive grip of ‘destiny’. Kagura questions if it’s acceptable to kill the possessed corpses who still look human. The protagonist’s vacillation is the girl’s tragic flaw that inevitably leads her to the footsteps of the stunning conclusion. Admirably maturing Kagura through the twelve episodes from vulnerability to independence, Ga Rei: Zero executes an effective coming of age tale.
Yomi acts as a foil to Kagura’s growth. As the story progresses, she becomes less and less grounded in reality. It’s disheartening to watch her mentally unravel, her transformation is perversely beautiful as the once a supportive guide becomes the antagonists.
Sadly, the supporting characters are an expendable commodity in this production. The audience is introduced to a whole platoon of faces, from those in the Minstry of Defense, to those in the Agency. The program has no shame, liberally murdering likable persona throughout the installments.
Taking a simple formula of mixing Ghostbusters, Men In Black, and a bit of high school drama, Ga Rei became a wildly popular manga in Japan. Ga Rei: Zero serves as a prequel to the drawn word, focusing on the relationship of Kagura and her adoptive sister Yomi. Narratives of this nature raise a few questions: Is it accessible to those who are not familiar with franchise? If so, does the program offer anything to those foreign to the series?
The answer to both is an emphatic yes. Ga Rei: Zero serves a powerful story, wrought with impact, memorable characters and excellent production value. Not only does it reinforce the happenings of the main storyline, it seduces you into the dark embrace of Kagura’s world, imploring that you give the manga at least a passing glance.